Government widens allowable terrorist targets in National Security statement – September 2016

Filed under: Politics, Foreign Affairs, Public Sector, Defence, National Security,

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced Australia will expand its rules of engagement in the Middle East to remove existing bans on the Australian military which prevent them attacking non-combatant key personnel, such as Daesh planners and recruiters.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the shift in Australia's military campaign against ISIS, by placing our operations under the broader international regulations, rather than the “restrictive” Australian laws they previously operated under. This will allow Australian forces to target ISIS support services, not just active fighters.

In a blunt national security statement to the House of Representatives on Thursday, Turnbull said a “legal anomaly” had hampered Australia's actions against Islamic State, or Daesh, and that the decision to operate under international law would allow Australian defence forces to “target and kill a broader range of Daesh combatants”.

“This legal risk posed a major challenge to the effectiveness of our operations. It meant that the ADF's targeting base in Iraq and Syria was restricted, and we could not operate as freely as our coalition partners,” Turnbull said.

“So I can announce that the Government has reviewed its policy on targeting enemy combatants and earlier this year made an important decision to ensure our forces are empowered to act against Daesh in Iraq and Syria to the maximum extent allowed by international law.”

Under the existing law Australian armed services personel could face life imprisonment for targetting terrorist recruiters, financ­iers or other Islamic State operatives not directly engaged in hostilities

In his statement to Parliament on National Security, Mr Turnbull said “the threats we face are regrettably very real—and they are evolving”.

But he said his message was one of reassurance. “The Government, the Parliament and our agencies are resolutely committed to ensuring Australians remain safe, secure and free,” he said

“In the last year alone, there have been around 40 Islamist terrorist attacks against the West or western interests. These attacks have resulted in over 700 deaths. Many of these are assessed to have been directed or inspired by Daesh,” Mr Turnbull said.

“Daesh is presently the most immediate security challenge that directly affects us all: our military and police; our communities; our youth - and it is therefore my focus today.

“We cannot pretend Daesh-related terrorism is merely a distant problem - a scourge that threatens people in places less fortunate than our own.

“In Australia, it is now two years since the national terror threat level was elevated to the level now known as ‘probable’. This increased threat was largely a consequence of the traction Daesh was getting from a growing number of Australians.

“Since then, there have been three terrorist attacks in Australia and in each case the attacker claimed allegiance to or was inspired by Daesh.

“In those two years our law enforcement and security agencies have successfully disrupted a further 10 terrorist attacks. Nine of these featured individuals with some form of allegiance to Daesh. In this period, 47 people have been charged as a result of 18 counter-terrorism operations around Australia. That’s over half of all terrorism-related charges since 2001.

“In order to defeat this despotic and barbaric movement we are working closely with our friends and allies to destroy it at its core: - its so-called “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.

“Daesh framed its rapid territorial expansion to create the false illusion of inexorable conquest, while its declaration of a caliphate helped it to generate delusions of religious legitimacy and historical grandeur.

“To promote Australia's safety our first objective must be to expel Daesh from its occupied territories and destroy its pretensions of statehood.

“This is why a 400-member Australian Defence Force Air Task Group is conducting airstrikes over Daesh strongholds in Iraq and Syria, and a similar number of ADF personnel are training and assisting Iraqi ground forces.

“The tide has now turned in the Middle East fight against Daesh.

“Thanks to the efforts of the Iraqi armed forces and their Coalition partners, including the ADF, Daesh has lost close to half of the territory it held in Iraq and up to 20% of its territory in Syria. We estimate its numbers of fighters have been cut by about a third. This is no small achievement - and it’s due in part to Australia’s military contribution.”

Mr Turnbull said the U.S. and its allies constituted a formidable war fighting machine “but we have had mixed success in helping to re-establish political order”.

“This is why I have been so resolute that the right soldiers on the right ground are crucial to giving the Middle East stability and the best opportunity to succeed.

“It is not simply the victory, but the manner of the victory that is crucial. Daesh needs to be defeated by Iraqis and by Syrians.

“Our air support, our trainers, our special forces are of vital importance. But it is essential that Syrians and Iraqis take the lead, win the victory and then keep the peace.”

He said that in January, the Chief of the Defence Force advised him of a legal anomaly which meant we were not empowering the ADF, in particular the Air Force, to be as effective as they could be.

Under international law, all members of an organised armed group such as Daesh could be targeted with lethal force, subject to the ordinary rules of international humanitarian law.

“This is a reasonable and conventional approach adopted by the armed forces of our key allies across the world.

“But there is a legal argument that Australia’s domestic law is more restrictive than international law. This legal risk posed a major challenge to the effectiveness of our operations. It meant that the ADF’s targeting base in Iraq and Syria was restricted, and we could not operate as freely as our coalition partners.

“So I can announce that the Government has reviewed its policy on targeting enemy combatants and earlier this year made an important decision to ensure our forces are empowered to act against Daesh in Iraq and Syria – to the maximum extent allowed by international law.

“And we will move quickly to introduce the necessary amendments to the Commonwealth Criminal Code that will bring our domestic laws into line with international norms.

“This means that ADF personnel will be supported by our domestic laws. They will be able to target Daesh at its core – joining with our coalition partners to target and kill a broader range of Daesh combatants – which is consistent with international law.

“This will ensure that our efforts in Syria and Iraq are resolute and effective, and our forces are fully empowered to roll back Daesh.”

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